The Steelers have played four elite NFL teams this season and they’ve lost to three of them and another took them to overtime.
Sunday afternoon, they play their fifth when the New York Jets come to Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has done a good job of beating the teams they were supposed to beat but the Jets provide them one last opportunity before the playoffs to show they can beat a good team too.
“This week we’re faced with a stiff challenge, an AFC challenge, in the New York Jets, a 9-4 team that like us has a desire to remain in the elite,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “That’s what December football is about.”
Last year, Tomlin made the mistake of promising to “unleash hell” in December and his team promptly went out and lost its first two games of the month to complete a five-game losing streak that dropped them to 6-7 and virtually out of the playoff race.
Now they are 10-3 after winning four straight and the coach is promising nothing; but they can soon deliver a No. 2 seed in the AFC if they win two out of their next three, which includes games against Carolina and a finale at Cleveland.
Their problem, though, is they can’t win the big one, or at least the bigger ones. They have lost to New Orleans, New England and Baltimore while Atlanta took them into overtime. They have two victories over quality opponents in Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
The Jets have lost two straight to fall to 9-4 and have never won in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers say they are not fooled by it.
“We know they’re a good team,” linebacker James Farrior(notes) said, and they’re going to come in here and give us everything they have. They’re fighting for a playoff spot also so it’s going to be a playoff-type atmosphere, a tough game.”
The intensity should be ramped up by the presence of former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes(notes) and Pittsburgh native Darrelle Revis(notes) in green and white, while Farrior was a first-round pick who began his career with the Jets. Stir in the Rex Ryan and Hard Knocks factor and there’s incentive everywhere.
And leave it to Tomlin to take his own subtle shot at the Jets when asked if he had watched the HBO show or would ever want his team to participate in it.
“I don’t watch it. I don’t watch it at all,” Tomlin said. “I have no interest whatsoever in doing Hard Knocks. Hopefully, Art Rooney feels the same way.”
The Jets and Steelers enter the game decidedly cold on offense. The Steelers have scored one touchdown on offense in the past 11 quarters and the Jets have scored nothing but three field goals in their past two games.
“They’ve played some good defenses,” Tomlin said of Jets foes New England and Miami the past two games. “They played some hot teams, some teams that have created issues for them. They’ve turned the ball over some; they’re not a team that turns the ball over quite a bit. It’s things you kind of go through during the course of a season and I’m sure they’re excited about rectifying them here this weekend at our expense.”
Series History: 19th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 15-3, including a 6-0 record in Pittsburgh. The Steelers also own a 1-0 playoff record against the Jets, that game in Heinz Field. However, the Jets won their most recent meeting, 19-16 in overtime in Giants Stadium in 2007. The teams have split their past four games. No current team in operation before this century has played fewer games in Pittsburgh than the Jets’ six there.
• A new stat called “The New York Life Protection Index” and computed by STATS rates the Steelers offensive line 29th in the league with a formula based all on pass plays. Pittsburgh has a 44.9 score. No. 1 Indianapolis has a 90.6 score.
• Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who has no interceptions this season, has complained because quarterbacks refuse to throw his way. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked if Revis is really THAT good.
Said Tomlin, “I assume he’s that good. I don’t have a lot of video evidence because nobody’s thrown the ball in his direction. He has a right to be frustrated. Hopefully he’s frustrated on Sunday.”
• Rookie Maurkice Pouncey(notes) has started every game at center this season and been a bright spot in an otherwise down year for the offensive line. The Jets will have their own strength at center in Nick Mangold(notes).
“I tease Maurkice,” Tomlin said. “You know he wants to be the best center in the world. He could try by being the best center in the stadium on Sunday.”
By The Numbers: .721—Steelers record at home since the NFL merger with the AFL in 1970, best in the league. They are 226-87-1 in Pittsburgh during that time.
Quote To Note: “Ask Troy. He will be available after he washes his hair.”—Coach Mike Tomlin when asked what he thought about S Troy Polamalu(notes) trying to lateral after his second interception of the game last Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
• WR Mike Wallace(notes) has a chance to become the third receiver in NFL history to lead the league in average per catch in his first two seasons. Wallace led the NFL with a 19.4-yard average as a rookie. His average of 20.6 yards today ranks second in the league.
• LB LaMarr Woodley(notes) may have signaled he’s ready for another late-season sack spurt with two last Sunday to give him 8.5 on the season. Last season, 11.5 of his 13.5 sacks came in the final eight games with four in the final two.
• TE Heath Miller’s(notes) return this Sunday after missing one game with a concussion might boost the run and pass blocking more than anything. He has caught just 33 passes this season after setting a team record at his position with 76 last season.
• LB Lawrence Timmons(notes), whose wide tackle lead on the team through the first half of the season disappeared, has again opened up a lead with 125 tackles to James Farrior’s 118.
• CB Keenan Lewis(notes) lost his job on special teams and as an extra corner to rookie CB/S Crezdon Butler(notes). Lewis was benched in favor of Butler after he ran out of bounds on a punt and was penalized for it for the second time this season.
Game Plan: The Steelers hope to run against the Jets, although they’ve had trouble doing that recently against anybody. They certainly do not want to put their quarterback in a position where he has to pass because he’s been beat up lately. On defense, they will most surely be on the lookout for the short passes and screens to LaDainian Tomlinson(notes). Nobody’s been able to run against them this season but pass-catching backs have given them trouble in the past and LT is one of the best at it.
Matchups To Watch: Jets CB Darrelle Revis vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace. One of the league’s best cover corners goes against one of the league’s best deep men. The Steelers won’t shy from throwing deep to Wallace because of Revis.
Jets WR Santonio Holmes vs. Steelers CB Ike Taylor(notes). Holmes and Taylor went at each other for four years in Pittsburgh, mostly in training camp, and know each other’s strengths—and weaknesses.
Jets LB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Steelers LB James Farrior. Two old war horses will square off both on the run and in the air.
Injury Impact: All hands will be on deck for Sunday’s game but there remains concern about S Troy Polamalu (calf/Achilles), OT Flozell Adams(notes) (ankle) and CB Bryant McFadden(notes) (hamstring).